Arizona to Require High Schoolers to Pass Basic Civics Test

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Arizona is set to be the first state to require its students to pass a civics test in order to graduate from high school.

The class of 2017 will be the first to take the exam, which will test their knowledge on the history and basic functions of the American government in order to earn their diploma.

The American Civics Act, which requires students to get 60 of the 100 questions on the US Immigration and Naturalization civics test correct, was approved by both houses later last week and was then signed by Governor Doug Ducey.

Curriculum pertaining to civics instruction will be decided by individual school districts and charter schools, as well as how students will be tested.  In his State of the State address last week, Ducey promised to sign the bill, saying a working knowledge of civics is of the utmost importance for future voters.

However, critics of the law say it is an unnecessary exam that will end up costing schools money.  Stephanie Parra, a member of the Phoenix Union High School District governing board, said the effort will end up being a waste of precious classroom time.

“Having students memorize and regurgitate facts is not going to get to the goal of what we want to accomplish here, which is retaining the importance and value of what American civics education should be,” she said.

Representative David Farnsworth countered her argument, saying the cost will be “infinitesimal,” and that students are already memorizing other facts, including the periodic table, in their education, writes Mary Beth Faller for AZCentral.

In addition, there are claims by critics that the bill was pushed through too quickly.  Senator Steve Yarbrough responded to those accusations by saying the measure had been discussed at length for months.

“I’ve read that anything of real value is worth appropriately measuring,” he said. “I would submit that a minimal understanding of American civics is of real value and therefore worthy of measurement.”

Eileen Sigmund, president and chief executive of the Arizona Charter Schools Association, said that a functional knowledge of history and government should be required of all children.

“This legislation will provide the means to measure whether Arizona students are learning the civics essentials necessary to grow into our nation’s next generation of leaders.”

The Arizona-based Joe Foss Institute is working to have the bill pass in all 50 states by September 17, 2017, which is the 230th anniversary of the US Constitution.  The institution reported that North Dakota is fast-tracking the bill and that 18 states have plans to pass legislation this year.

The institute carries the motto “Patriotism Matters” and has created a civics institute in order to better promote the test as a way to increase students’ knowledge of the working government and better prepare them to be citizens of the United States.

However, teachers across the state, including high school government teacher Joe Thomas of Mesa, are concerned that the test is not an effective way to get students involved in government through critical thinking, but rather simply rote memorization of terms.

“The interest is promoting civics and we want to see students engaged,” Thomas said. “I don’t know if a test engages students.”